Starting off a new year of concerts

December and January tend to be fairly quiet months for concert-going in Chicago — but there’s always something good going on out there if you look hard enough. For the most part, I’ve been lying low lately, but I did see a few cool shows.

One of my final concerts of 2009 was the Dec. 28 performance at Schubas by Rock Falls, with opening acts Royal Osprey and Roommate. It was nice to hear Roommate paying tribute to the late Vic Chesnutt with a cover of his song “Sponge,” not to mention another fine cover, Guided By Voices’ “Smothered in Hugs.” Rock Falls delivered another fine performance of her folk rock, concluding the show with a lovely a cappella version of “On the Street Where You Live” from “My Fair Lady.” This was the last of four Monday night showcases in December for the local label Cardboard Sangria.
Photos of Rock Falls, Royal Osprey and Roommate.

And then I closed the year out on Dec. 30 with the Fiery Furnaces at Schubas. The band’s Matt Friedberger is playing guitar these days in concert rather than organ or electric piano, which is an improvement in my book. The band sounded as tight and as strange as ever, with Eleanor Friedberger reciting her usual river of surreal poetry. As much as I prefer hearing the band use guitar over keyboards, it would be even better if the Fiery Furnaces varied their sound within a show. The music is rich and multifaceted, but it can get monotonous when the Furnaces lock into one sound for the whole show. Opening act Cryptacize is known to drive some folks crazy, but I’ve liked their dadaist, disconnected songs. This time, they sounded a little less discombobulated than before (recombobulated?) Primary Cryptacize singer Nedelle Torrisi sounded strong and alluring. (Sorry, no photos — I gave my camera the night off.)

I did not see any live music on New Year’s Eve, but I did start off 2010 with a free afternoon gig by Philadelphia singer-songwriter Kurt Vile at Permanent Records. The shop was crammed full of people as Vile sang and played acoustic guitar behind the counter with his music enveloped in very heavy reverb. Vile has been writing some cool songs, and he’s also part of the excellent band the War on Drugs. The guy barely showed his face during the performance, letting his long hair hang down in front. Hence, the scarcity of photos. But I did post a couple of photos of Kurt Vile, including one shot of him talking after the performance.

Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman played three sold-out shows in a row at the Empty Bottle, starting on New Year’s Eve. I did not see any of those concerts, but I picked up a ticket when he announced a fourth gig — performing solo at the Viaduct Theater Sunday evening (Jan. 3). Lekman has a fairly enchanting stage presence, weaving humorous stories into his songs. The set started out with just vocals and guitar, but then Lekman began using backing tracks from a laptop. Eventually, he played a song or two karaoke-style, dancing around as he sang to the music on the laptop. A minute later, he apologized. “I’m sorry this show degenerated into some sort of vaudeville there for a second. I just feel it really deep.” At another point, Lekman got the audience to play the “feather game” — keeping a feather aloft by blowing at it — while Lekman played “A Handful of Feathers.” There was a strong feeling of connection and friendship between the audience and the artist.
Photos of Jens Lekman.

Alas, my camera stopped working halfway through the Lekman concert. Hoping to get it fixed soon.

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